This event took place online on 29 June 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. The mainly UK-based audience were 12 weeks into a lock down which was beginning to be relaxed. Thoughts of how we might use the crisis to develop a green recovery were uppermost in many people’s minds.
Behaviour change has been identified by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) as one of the most important factors in achieving our net-zero carbon targets in 2050. However it receives very little coverage compared to technical issues. Is this because science of behaviour is tied up with so many other complexities from politics to commerce?
We have decided to publish the recording of the event almost in full. Many who wanted to attend were unable to attend and it also repays revisiting the rich discussion generated by an expert panel.
The Conversation is framed by Maria Smith in the chair against the challenge of tackling climate change in a consumer economy. Referencing recently published critiques of capitalism and consumerism such as Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, she challenges the panel to question whether GDP growth is good and if the economic system is the first determinant of behaviour that needs to change. Consumerism and inequity were issues that were raised by all of the contributors. We hear a neatly reasoned argument for more public spaces in cities from Angela Druckman, based on the embodied carbon of various leisure activities. Toby Park gives us a fascinating insight into the science of behaviour change and ‘choice architecture’ and the potential for ‘eco-incentives’. Mike Kiel looks at four different constituents of the carbon intensive water industry – Government and regulators, the water companies themselves, engineers and the supply chain, and the end-consumer. All of these bodies need to ‘think differently’ in his view and understanding the carbon-intensity of water is one way to encourage this. Simon Rawlinson examines how industry leaders should not ‘waste a good crisis’ and need to take a pragmatic and systematic approach to ‘develop a continuum of decarbonisation’ when making their investment and purchase choices’. Laurie Laybourn-Langton makes an impassioned plea for society not to return to business as usual but to use the good things that have been achieved collectively during the Covid-19 crisis to ‘oppose the threat of dislocation from each other’. We are all individual leaders in his view.
The audience raise many further issues from upgrading regulations around house building to changing our attitudes to waste using appropriately targeted measures. This is a rich conversation worthy of (re)visiting: in general everyone is looking for socially and environmentally just ways to change behaviour – small practical steps that make us feel better without huge upheaval. But the Covid-19 crisis is such a huge moment that we are inevitably starting to talk about bigger economic and social issues. Interesting times!
Maria Smith, Director of Sustainability, Buro Happold Engineering (chairing)
Maria is a multi-award winning architect, engineer, writer, and curator, working across disciplines to bring the built environment in line with planetary limits.
Maria joined Buro Happold from Webb Yates Engineers in 2020, where she was a Director focused on sustainability and trans-disciplinary practice. She brings fifteen years’ experience leading multi-award-winning architecture and engineering practices – from art and architecture practice Studio Weave, Interrobang Architecture and Engineering and Webb Yates Engineers.
She is a nationally elected member of the council of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), a trustee of the Architecture Foundation, and on the steering committee of Architects Declare. In 2017 she was appointed a Design Advocate by the Greater London Authority where she serves on the Ecological Urbanism Sounding Board and advised on the development of the Circular Economy Guidance document. Maria was also chief curator of “Enough: The Architecture of Degrowth”, the 2019 Oslo Architecture Triennale that explored how architecture can establish the conditions for an economy based on social and ecological flourishing.
Maria has written for newspapers and magazines including the Financial Times, the Architectural Review and RIBAJ, where she was a columnist for five years. She co-founded the international series of politics and architecture debates Turncoats, and frequently speaks at universities, conferences, and events on sustainability, architecture and the interconnectedness of the ecological crisis and our economy.
Times above each panel member indicate where they speak in the event video.
Angela Druckman- Professor of Sustainable Consumption and Production, Centre for Environment and Sustainability, University of Surrey.
Angela is a Chartered Engineer, having read Engineering at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on investigating avenues that may lead towards more sustainable lifestyles.
Angela leads on education for sustainability for the University of Surrey: she chairs the Sustainability in the Curriculum Working Group, and is a member of the Executive Sustainability Steering Group and the Curriculum Design Review Working Group.
Toby Park – Head of Energy & Sustainability, Behavioural Insights Team (BIT)
Toby leads the energy and sustainability work at BIT, covering topics as diverse as domestic energy use, sustainable transport and wider pro-environmental behaviours including recycling, food consumption, air quality and water conservation. The energy and sustainability team also work closely with the productivity and economic growth team, with an interest in promoting sustainable business practice and green growth. Toby also works with our consumers team supporting our housing work.
Toby’s background is originally in engineering, having spent a number of years running environmental impact assessments and acoustic design work for architectural and building services clients. He returned to academia to focus on social and cognitive psychology before joining BIT in 2014. He holds Masters degrees in Engineering (1st class) and Psychology (distinction).
Mike Kiel – Head of Policy and Research, Consumer Council for Water
Mike spent the first part of his career at the Met Office, during which time he completed his PhD in modelling the stratosphere. In 2007 he joined Ofwat as its first head of climate change policy. Mike moved to Severn Trent Water in 2011 to lead the company’s work on climate change and resilience. In 2014 Mike went on secondment to run Severn Trent’s Asset Management Department, before moving to his role as Business Leader for Asset Strategy he helps set the long-term direction for the company.
Simon Rawlinson – Head of Strategic Research and Insight, Arcadis
Simon is a member of the Construction Leadership Council responsible for strategy, communication and thought leadership. He is also a member of the CIC Executive and the Strategic Forum for Construction.
Simon has 20 years’ experience in construction and built environment research and innovation. He is a well-known commentator in the construction industry, having worked with leading industry publications in the UK and overseas for many years. Simon’s research interests include market forecasting, construction productivity and procurement. Prior to specialising, Simon practiced as a Quantity Surveyor with BDP and Davis Langdon.
Simon has worked extensively in the property and infrastructure sectors and has advised clients in the UK and overseas. Research projects delivered by Simon have supported the development of construction industry strategy in the UK, Middle east and Asia.
Laurie Laybourn-Langton – Associate Fellow, IPPR
Laurie leads a major project developing policy responses to environmental breakdown.
His work has also covered political economy and how shifts occur in prevailing economic ideas and policies, the role and power of digital platforms, and mobility transitions.
Areas of expertise include climate and environmental breakdown, political economy, digital platforms and transport.
Previously, Laurie was Director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change and Co-Chair of Trustees of Rethinking Economics. He has also worked for Lord Skidelsky in the House of Lords, where he focussed on post-crash macroeconomic policy, and at the Institute for New Economic Thinking at Oxford University and as a strategist for Purpose.
Laurie holds an MPhil in Economics from Oxford University and a BSc in Physics from Exeter University.
Outside of IPPR, he is co-authoring a book on how to build a politics capable of responding to environmental breakdown.